Hope Isn’t Blind: It’s a Way to Build Trust and Manage Anxiety

Some anxieties are essential, and for millennia they kept our ancestors alive. But there's another type of anxiety that we can actually do away with—and it's defeated via hope.

Victoria McGeer: I think of trust and hope as being really quite closely related and oftentimes we trust without really having to worry too much about whether the person we’re trusting is able to do what we’re trusting them with. Maybe they’re a very reliable type and we trusted them in the past with this sort of thing, and we don’t really—we’re not too worried about their capacity for living up to that trust. But very often we’re having to trust under conditions where we’re a little more uncertain. Or where we think there’s some sort of, as it were, almost moral obligation. Certainly it can be a sort of parental obligation to trust, for example, our children, when we think maybe they’re not fully reliable yet. And they may well disappoint us, but it’s certainly an important part of raising those children to understand that they are going to be asked to do things, they are going to be relied on in various ways. It’s a way of allowing them to develop those capacities to be responsive to trust, which is a very important feature of human social life. And there I think we do need to energize our trust with our own capacity to hope—that means something very particular for me. That is to say when we hope for things, we’re always facing the fact that we could be disappointed. And we’re facing that disappointment sort of in a clear-eyed way—that is, if we’re hoping well. And we’re saying, you know, I understand what the stakes are here but I think this is an important thing to do and it’s important to regulate my own anxiety about this.

So I use my hope to put certain worries offline, as it were, to just not focus on them. To focus instead on what could be, under the right sort of conditions and giving whatever support is necessary to make that come about. But, of course, I have to, as a hoper, realize that I could be disappointed and also therefore that I have the kind of capacity to recover from disappointment. That’s a very important part of hoping well.

In this refreshing take on the utility of hope, Princeton research scholar Victoria McGeer explains that there's a difference between blind hope and practical hope. The latter means taking a clear-eyed view of potential disappointment, knowing that there may be failure, and then putting your anxieties offline by trusting in the elements that are beyond your control. Trust is a critical feature of human social life, and we're often obligated to trust in uncertain circumstances: trust your kids, trust that stranger, trust your neighbor. Hope, when done properly, can fortify trust, reduce anxiety, and actually give you the tools to cope with disappointment. This video was filmed as part of the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism.

Personal Growth

The life choices that had led me to be sitting in a booth underneath a banner that read “Ask a Philosopher" – at the entrance to the New York City subway at 57th and 8th – were perhaps random but inevitable.

Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: the rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

'Self is not entirely lost in dementia,' argues new review

The assumption "that without memory, there can be no self" is wrong, say researchers.

Photo credit: Darren Hauck / Getty Images
Mind & Brain

In the past when scholars have reflected on the psychological impact of dementia they have frequently referred to the loss of the "self" in dramatic and devastating terms, using language such as the "unbecoming of the self" or the "disintegration" of the self. In a new review released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, an international team of psychologists led by Muireann Irish at the University of Sydney challenge this bleak picture which they attribute to the common, but mistaken, assumption "that without memory, there can be no self" (as encapsulated by the line from Hume: "Memory alone… 'tis to be considered… as the source of personal identity").

Keep reading Show less